What a Synthesizer Designer Learned from a Neuroscientist?

My friend @Galapagoose and I have been working on instrument designs with ratiometric tuning. I made a calculator based on the concept of Critical Bandwidth. It returns the percentage of tonal pitch intervals given base pitch and ranges of numerator and denominator. It’s to aid the decision-making for the ranges of controls on a musical instrument. As musicality lies in a range, experimentation lies on its edges, and controllability is better when the range is smaller. We do want a healthy balance of all three elements.

get it: https://github.com/mengqimusic/tools


i’m excited to learn more so thanks for sharing your process while developing

the video and patch will be fun to explore!

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I’m so looking forward to whatever instrument comes from these ideas!


you are amazing as always. looking wonderful and fascinating concepts.


Something is on the Horizon


Excited to hear more as well as I have been experimenting with atonal structures lately, specifically with the interval ratio scalar as the primary driver for movement.

I love the adaption of the STR model of balance between the the three musical elements. A balance of all three is ideal, but sometimes a preference of ‘pick two at the sacrifice of the third’ may result in more interesting results.

Excited to see what this yields!

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I find this fascinating and I’ll be sure to check out the patch. Like so many others I really am so excited & cannot wait for whatever it is you both have been working on!

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Lovely idea! :+1: I have thought about two examples:

  1. Acoustic Instruments:

It’s worth noting that most traditional acoustic instruments prioritize musicality and controllability over experimentation. For example, Western orchestral instruments were developed and refined during the Renaissance and Baroque periods when tonality and harmony were the dominant musical language. It wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the rise of the modernist movement, that atonal intervals and complex chords became more widely accepted as valid musical expressions.

  1. Serge Modular

Another example is the Serge modular. Their modules offer the “patch-programming” functionality, which means the function of a module can be changed by user patching. A perfect example would be the Dual Universal Slope Generator (DUSG), which can be patched to perform nine different functions, as shown in its manual below. While this flexibility allows for a great deal of creative exploration, it can also make it difficult to tune the module to a specific note and maintain that pitch over a session’s duration. So it can be seen as a good example of musical instrument design that’s prioritizing musicality and experimentation over controllability.

Overall, the balance between them is a dynamic and ongoing conversation in the world of music technology. See what we’ll come up with. :wink:


This is exciting and something I’ll follow with interest.

I do feel like there should be some push back against the below block quote. Broadly speaking that’s totally true but I do think there’s a lot of nuance lost looking back at the music of that time through 20th century Germanic ideas of musical progress. Harmony & tonality could be viewed as quite an emergent phenomena until the mid-19th century (and beyond) but it all depends on the context of your chosen musical entry point.


This is great. The first 5 or 6 years of my career almost all of my pieces featured frequencies that exploited critical bandwidths to create the illusion that sound were occurring ‘in the head’ (I did this alongside exploiting standing waves as well).

Great stuff!

Thank you for your thoughtful input. It is greatly appreciated. I fully acknowledge that my initial description of musical progress may have lacked nuance and depth.

However, my main point is that traditional Western orchestral instruments were often developed to produce a pleasing sound, which may have resulted from cultural and societal influences at the time. This contrasts with more experimental approaches in some modern musical instruments (including acoustic ones, such as Intonarumori or Daxophone).

Original sketch of one of the intonarumori (1914)

(images from Wikipedia)


I’m very excited for SuperBooth next week! Although I won’t be able to attend, I am hoping Meng Qi discusses more about this upcoming instrument - similar to his original interview that showed off the Wing Pinger.